Tuesday, August 18, 2020


A US Census lady knocked on my door over the weekend and asked very few questions compared to what were asked during the 2010 or 2000 census. After recording names, sexes, and birthdates of people who lived at my address on April 1st, she came to the inevitable race question which went something like: did I consider myself Hispanic? I told her I’m human; so is my wife, and that’s all she needed to know. With that she said she was all done and got up to leave.

Surprised, I asked her what the federal government would do with data about race if I had identified myself as belonging to one of its categories. She said would have had more questions if I had identified as “white.” She would have asked about ethnicities like Irish or Italian, but since I declined to racially categorize myself or my wife, she stopped. There were no questions about religion, occupation, or citizenship status — the kind of data useful to historians studying trends. Perhaps she knew I was a retired teacher, but wasn’t aware that I still work. We live in the same town and I know her and her family.

Government at all levels is obsessed with discriminating between people based on skin color or ethnicity, and has been for as long as I can remember. Decades ago I stopped cooperating. When encountering ubiquitous race questions on official forms, my habit is to draw in a box, label it “human” and put a check it. While distributing state testing forms in my public school classroom, I suggested to students that they could do the same. Many did.

Obsession with race is getting worse. At the University of Southern Maine in Portland — a state institution — president Glenn Cummings recently asked all students and faculty to sign a “Black Lives Matter Statement and Antiracism Pledge.” He intends to publish a list of everyone who signs it, and that, by process of elimination, would also become a list of those who did not sign it. Would they then be subject to sanctions or harassment?

What about students and faculty who, while recognizing historical oppression of blacks in America, disagree with BLM’s anti-capitalism or its inherent Marxism? How about those who object to a pledge by BLM’s Greater New York president Hawk Newsome that: “If this country doesn't give us what we want, then we will burn down this system and replace it”? Or how about those who disagree with Chicago BLM organizer Ariel Atkins who said BLM rioters looting stores were justified because: “That is reparations. Anything they wanted to take, they can take it because these businesses have insurance.”

The University of Southern Maine pledge states that:

We stand in solidarity with those who are working for justice and change. And we invite you to join us in pledging to be a practicing antiracist at the University of Southern Maine and in all aspects of your life. We believe, as Ibram Kendi writes, that "the only way to undo racism is to constantly identify it and describe it — and then dismantle it.”

Never having heard of Ibram Kendi, I did searches on him. His latest book is: How To Be An Antiracist. About it, Christopher Caldwell contends in National Review:

Anti-racists assume that the American system of politics, economics, and policing has been corrupted by racial prejudice, that such prejudice explains the entire difference in socioeconomic status between blacks and others, that the status quo must be fought and beaten, and that anyone not actively engaged in this system-changing work is a collaborator with racism, and therefore himself a legitimate target for attack.

This is dangerous rhetoric. It assumes that “systemic racism” is a real thing — that if you’re white, you were born with “white privilege,” as well as inherent racism against so-called “people of color.” If you don’t sign pledges like the one USM President Glenn Cummings urges you to sign, if you don’t kneel during the national anthem, if you don’t constantly proclaim that you’re not racist, you might as well proclaim that you are. The USM “community” will no doubt see you as such.

USM is a state institution. It’s supported by our tax dollars and it shouldn’t be pressuring its students or faculty to support political positions, much less radical-left ideologies like those espoused by Black Lives Matter. Along with almost all levels of government, USM is obsessed by race. We would all do better to insist there is only one race — the human race — and no subsidiaries exist.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020


Substance abuse and mental illness have plagued us throughout history. Public attitudes and efforts to mitigate them have varied over the ages. Last week’s column spotlighted the recent “homeless encampment” at the Portland, Maine City Hall with concentrations of people plagued by these issues and such is the case with nearly all homeless in cities across America. During my lifetime I’ve witnessed widely different societal strategies for these chronic, human problems.

Tewksbury State Hospital in Massachusetts was mysterious to me as a young boy growing up a mile away in the then-rural town by that name. When my mother allowed me to ride my bike to the Red Roof variety store to spend the quarter my grandmother gave me each week, twenty-five cents purchased  two Superman comic books and a Hershey bar with almonds. I’d sit on a well cover outside the store eating my chocolate bar and gaze at the fortress-like, 19th-century complex across a broad field.

It was surrounded by high, brick walls behind which taller, red-brick, administrative buildings loomed near the main gate. Behind those were various wards in smaller, separate brick buildings sprawling over many acres and housing individuals who had themselves become wards of the state. All the wards were connected by tunnels allowing traffic between them without traipsing through winter snow. Surrounding the walls was a working farm of over 800 acres including a piggery, a dairy farm, greenhouses, barns, and vast cornfields.

Established in 1852 as an “alms house,” its mission changed as the state took on more societal burdens. It morphed into an insane asylum; it treated alcoholism, unwed mothers, paupers, patients with congenital birth defects, quadriplegics, and many others. Annie Sullivan, better known as “The Miracle Worker” as Helen Keller’s teacher, spend several years there as a child. Her brother, Jimmi, died there and is buried in an unmarked grave.

Later, as an undergraduate at nearby University of Lowell, I’d work inside those walls on every men’s ward for more than two years as a full-time orderly on the 3-11:30 shift. The alcoholic ward treated street people from Greater Boston. After discharge, some made it with the help of churches and private charities but most relapsed and returned again and again. Many, if not most, had co-occurring mental illnesses — but they weren’t on the streets. They weren’t in jails. They were provided with food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, guidance, and vocational training if they were inclined to take it.

Just prior to my employment there in the 1970s, Massachusetts had begun to implement a different strategy. It would provide halfway houses with trained staff to counsel, administer psychoactive drugs, and help reintegrate patients into communities. The mentally ill were released from the hospitals, but the above-described services were never provided to the extent needed. Many former patients refused to take their meds and there was no way to make them.

Fifty years hence, our jails are filled with untreated, mentally-ill substance abusers. Others live on the streets, eat in soup kitchens, sleep in homeless shelters, doorways, under bridges, and in parks. They are used to push a political agenda as we witnessed this summer at Portland City Hall. Institutionalization had been the practice during most of the 20th century and it had flaws. Defects with the subsequent, de-institutionalization model, however, are before us every day in cities across the country. In Portland, people are camped out in parks, panhandling on street corners, and crashed out in downtown doorways.

My wife did her undergraduate internship for social work through the University of Southern Maine and worked with the homeless at the now-closed Preble Street Resource Center under its founder, Joe Kreisler, for a year. We both agree that neither of the above, historical approaches work well and there is no perfect model. “The poor you will always with you,” said Jesus Christ, posing a challenge to our humanity. We can measure ourselves by how we deal with them.

My suggestion is a modified institutional approach. Round up the homeless and care for them institutionally even when it’s against their will, then offer them a step-by-step strategy to earn re-entry into society. Play out their tethers gradually and pull them back quickly when they relapse — much the way probation officers do for jail inmates when they’re adequately funded. Most importantly, allow them to keep trying. Such an approach would be more expensive, but more humane than releasing them into our streets to fend for themselves.

As an old selectman told me decades ago when appointing me General Assistance Administrator for my town: “We have the poor, and the poor have us.” And so it goes.

Monday, August 03, 2020


“I have nine children with nine different women,” said Richard Cox, 56, who also said he is a former Army Ranger and has been homeless for a year. He, along with Aaron Porter, 24, were assigned to me as trained press liaisons for the homeless encampment at Portland City Hall on Congress Street. Aaron told me he has been homeless for eight years but both men preferred to call themselves “unhoused.”

Press liasons Richard Cox and Aaron Porter

They were attached to me last Friday after I took some pictures near the medical tent and asked questions of the volunteers there. One got on a walkie-talkie and pretty soon Richard and Aaron showed up. We went around the corner on a side street so my digital audio device didn’t pick up traffic noise or screaming obscenities from “residents” like the two women near us were delivering with incredibly-loud voices. 

Gray stains on pavement are dried urine

The “unhoused” encampment has grown on the steps of Portland City Hall and on the sidewalks in front of and beside the impressive stone edifice for almost two weeks. It would be more accurate to describe the building as a formerly-impressive edifice as it’s now covered with stains of dried urine, tents, trash,  sleeping bags, canopies, and people sleeping or walking around. How much more the encampment grows may be determined by a Portland City Council meeting scheduled for Monday, August 3rd.

Aaron and Richard told me no one is working in the building since Covid and are instead working from home. However, the Portland Press Herald reported that City Hall closed for business the previous Monday because staff felt unsafe. Walking around the encampment, I was reminded of what's happening at the other Portland on the west coast and in Seattle where leftists took over whole city blocks.

A large, prominent, professionally-printed sign on the sidewalk declared: “Our Demands,” which included: “DEFUND THE POLICE” and “EXTEND EVICTION FREEZE.” Another sign said: “HOMELESS LIVES MATTER.” That called to mind the Black Lives Matters protests there few weeks ago accompanied by violence and looting. Protesters included organizers like African refugees Hamdia Ahmed and Abdul Ali. Later, someone named Abdikareem Hasan was arrested for firing several shots into the nearby Portland Police Station parking garage.

Abdikareem Hassan

Leaving Richard and Aaron and walking carefully up the steps of City Hall, I squeezed between tents and sleeping bags, some with crashed-out people in them. There was dried urine all the way to the top and I couldn’t avoid stepping in it. I pitied people in tents on the lower steps and on the sidewalk as the urine would, of course, flow down to them, especially when it rained. I was glad not to see, or step in, any excrement, however.

Urine stains on City Hall steps

In one kiosk, I saw a list of people to whom donated tents, sleeping bags, soap, XL women’s diapers, kids’ clothes, and many other donated items had been given. There were written directions conspicuously posted explaining when to administer Narcan for those who overdose. 

“Housed” people were arriving regularly to drop off items that were requested on still another list. Everything visible, except for the people, was donated from the outside. This was clearly kept going by others who wanted political visibility.

Press liaisons Richard and Aaron wore walkie-talkies on their belts and were periodically called to quell disturbances. A Paddy Wagon with blue lights flashing on the next block took people to the police station or to the Cumberland County Jail where I had been volunteering for four years until the pandemic closed it to employees and inmates only.

Preble Street Resource Center

Also closed down by government overreaction to the virus was the nearby Preble Street Resource Center. It had provided all the services to the homeless now being delivered at the City Hall encampment and more. That seems a foolish decision considering that those camping at City Hall and in Deering Oaks Park aren’t socially distancing and few wear masks. There were also toilets at Preble Street. Paradoxically, it seems the “unhoused” at the encampment don’t have to live in donated tents because city officials have said homeless shelters at Oxford Street and at the Portland Expo are operating at only half capacity.

Portland Police Chief Frank Clark reported that shots were fired at the encampment on Saturday. The whole thing seems a political stunt to this writer and US News said it's organized by something called the “Maine People’s Housing Coalition,” I did several searches for it and only came up with a Facebook page. Links from there led me to national, leftist sites with LGBT, socialist, and communist links. The Portland Press Herald, however, has not dug into the “Maine People’s Housing Coalition” or its affiliates.

Is Portland, Maine being plagued by the same leftist forces now ruining the other Portland on the west coast? It would seem so.